Voters in state House District 94 go to the polls in a special election this Saturday (March 10) to choose a successor to veteran state Rep. Emile "Peppi" Bruneau, who decided to retire early after 30 years in the House. The district includes all of Lakeview and City Park, most of the lakefront neighborhoods and parts of Gentilly and Mid-City. Six candidates have qualified to run in the hastily called election, and the district is blessed to have several candidates who are amply qualified to represent it. After interviewing all six candidates, Gambit Weekly recommends the election of 39-year-old attorney and Army veteran Nick Lorusso.
Lorusso is a lifelong resident of District 94, a graduate of Jesuit High School, UNO and LSU Law Center, and a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the U.S. Army. Trained as a paratrooper, Lorusso served in the JAG Corps as a military prosecutor and special assistant U.S. Attorney -- including a stint as a prosecutor and legal advisor at al-Qaida terrorist tribunals. He has been called to active duty three times since graduating from law school and currently holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves.
As a civilian, Lorusso has been active in his community as a coach of youth athletic teams, as a fund-raiser for the National D-Day Museum and as a member of various civic associations. A Republican, he has a keen grasp of the fiscal as well as legal and neighborhood issues that are so important to this district. His military background also has prepared him to lead in a crisis. He will make District 94 a fine state representative.
As we considered the relative merits of each candidate, it became clear that the overarching issue in this race is the race itself -- that is, the circumstances under which Peppi Bruneau timed his resignation to favor the election of his son, Jeb Bruneau. Although his resignation had been rumored for months, Rep. Bruneau waited until Jan. 19 to submit his letter of resignation to House Speaker Joe Salter. The resignation takes effect at 1 p.m. on April 30 -- one hour after the next session of the Legislature begins. Salter scheduled Saturday's special election, with a runoff (if needed) set for March 31. He set qualifying for Feb. 7-9, thereby giving all candidates except one very little time to prepare to run -- and voters almost no time to get to know candidates.
Salter said he wanted to call the election quickly to give candidates an opportunity to be seated in time for the April 30 session and to pre-file bills before it opens. In truth, the special election was timed to give Jeb Bruneau every possible advantage. This election could have been held much earlier (had Rep. Bruneau resigned sooner), or it could have been put on the March 31 ballot (a regularly scheduled statewide election date). Better yet, Rep. Bruneau could have served out his term -- sparing taxpayers the expense of another "special" election and giving his storm-ravaged district the full benefit of his three decades of experience at a critical time in the city's history. Instead, for purely personal reasons, he has chosen to end his career on a selfish note -- and cast a cloud over his son's nascent political career.
Rep. Bruneau, who has been a popular if tempestuous fixture in Lakeview politics since 1975, apparently has some disdain for term limits, which kick in this year for Bruneau and more than half the Louisiana lawmakers elected in 2003. Several term-limited legislators have already bailed, having won special elections to other offices in the last few years. For his part, Bruneau simply opted out early -- on his own terms, so to speak -- rather than serving out the last eight months of his term in fulfillment of his duty to the people who elected him. That's a pity, because Rep. Bruneau could have been a real factor in the 60-day session that begins April 30 -- a session during which his district and his city will have much at stake.
It is fair to ask, should we hold the sins of Rep. Bruneau against his son, who by all accounts appears well qualified to serve in his father's place?
Consider the facts:
Jeb Bruneau's campaign finance report shows he launched his campaign on Oct. 26, 2006 -- almost three months before his father's resignation. He cut his first campaign checks for polling and media on Nov. 7, for Web page design on Nov. 22, and for bumper stickers on Dec. 5. He held a fundraiser at the Fair Grounds on Dec. 8. Jeb Bruneau would have made a formidable candidate had he chosen to run under less suspicious circumstances. He has a record of neighborhood leadership and service as past president of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association, and he is well versed on the issues. But, in this election, he comes off as the kid who got an early peek at the exam -- so it's no wonder he looks prepared. In the end, we think the circumstances surrounding this election reflect poorly on both father and son and therefore disqualify Jeb Bruneau from consideration.
We urge all voters in House District 94 to vote in this Saturday's election. We also heartily endorse Nick Lorusso as the district's next state representative.